I visited a very dear friend yesterday, Mary McCleary. If you are into handbells at all, her name is very familiar to you, as she was a very prolific handbell composer in years past, and a tireless advocate for that instrument(s). Mary is my sort of “adopted grandmother” – I followed her as music director in two churches in CT, and we have always been mutual admirers and good friends. She’ll be 90 in August, and now lives in Elim Park, a retirement community in Cheshire, where she has gotten a total new lease on life as a musician, helping them to put a pipe organ in their chapel, leading a group of elder singers in a weekly sing-along (she says, “Can you believe I’ve finally learned to play by ear?!”), and being part of a very close-knit community after many years of living alone.
My favorite story about Mary is that she played her first organ recital in Connecticut on THE Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941! She always mentions that of course they had no idea the attack happened until days later.
The differences we make in people’s lives as musicians are immeasurable. I have always been humbled by the sheer number of people that have had their lives enriched by Mary’s gifts and joy in sharing them, for so many years. My young son was along for the visit, and was taken in by her immediately – perhaps McCleary Fan No. 3000?
I’m glad you got to visit with Mary. She was so patient with me when I wanted to try ringing bells – and I had NO idea what I was doing. She’s such a nice lady with a wonderful sense of humor. Tell her I said HI!